Down the Rabbit Hole: a Brazilian-Brit in the USA

 

By Juliana Spink Mills

When I was eight, my English father and Brazilian mother boxed up our lives and moved our family from London, UK, to São Paulo, Brazil. There were many reasons behind the move – jobs, lifestyle, extended family – and it was definitely one of the biggest milestones of my young life. I’ll never forget the sensation of heat and damp when we stepped off the airplane, or arriving at my grandparents’ house to lush gardens and a kidney-shaped pool glowing like a jewel in the grass.

As a travel gift, I was given the full set of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. After arriving in a country where I didn’t understand the language or customs, those books were my lifeline. I bonded with Lewis’ characters over the strangeness of arriving in a world where everything was new and amazing, and also a little bit scary. And although my parents had read The Hobbit to me when I was small, this was probably where my love of fantasy novels comes from: that absolute identification with Lucy Pevensie and all the others who traveled through wardrobes and down rabbit holes, having to adapt and to reassess everything they knew.

I lived in Brazil for most of my life. I absorbed the language and the culture. I learned to embrace my duality: a dual citizen not just on paper, but in manner and speech, too. And I learned what it’s like to be the eternal gringa – not quite entirely English, nor wholly Brazilian.

My love of the fantastic in fiction grew throughout my life. I was the hobbit in Lord of the Rings, trying to navigate and understand a vaster world than the one I’d started out in. I was Leia in Star Wars: princess, politician, warrior, strategist – a bit of everything and at the same time still searching for meaning and a place to belong. Science fiction and fantasy gave me a space where I wasn’t the only one a little lost, a little strange, and a little bit of a stranger, too.

Four years ago, my husband and I – in a curious mirroring of my own parents’ decision all those years ago – packed up our house and kids and moved to Connecticut, USA. I was the gringa again, the one with the weird sort-of-British-but-not-quite accent that I get asked about over and over. I was back down Alice’s rabbit hole, and once again finding solace in speculative fiction. But this time, I was the one putting words to paper, and creating my own imagined realms.

My YA series, the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press), is urban fantasy, a genre where fantastic and supernatural elements rub shoulders with modernity. My demons use cell phones, and my angels drive around in SUVs. I like the idea that the guy next to you in the grocery store might have an entire “secret identity”; in my stories, he might be a werewolf, or a pixie. I’ve always loved tales that bring us worlds within worlds – perhaps because I grew up feeling that I belonged to different universes at the same time. And writing fantasy lets me play around with this as much as I want.

My novels also gave me a chance to put little bits of my own identity into my work. I have an English vampire knight, and an entire clan of Brazilian-American witches who get plenty of page space in book 2, Night Blade. I have mentions of books, TV shows, and sports teams that are tributes to loved ones. Scattering personal Easter eggs into my writing helps make sense of these wardrobes I keep tumbling through and, together with the books I read, serves to anchor me and let me find my place in my own real life story.

 

       

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Juliana Spink Mills was born in England, but grew up in Brazil. Now she lives in Connecticut, and writes science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Heart Blade and Night Blade, the first two books in the young adult Blade Hunt Chronicles urban fantasy series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and online publications. Besides writing, Juliana works as a Portuguese/English translator, and as a teen library assistant.

Book Review: The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli

 

Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Goodreads): After walking for days across the harsh Brazilian landscape only to be rejected by his last living relative, Samuel finds his options for survival are dwindling fast – until he comes to the hollow head of a statue, perfect for a boy to crawl into and hide…

Whilst sheltering, Samuel realizes that he can hear the villagers’ whispered prayers to Saint Anthony – confessing lost loves, hopes and fears – and he begins to wonder if he ought to help them out a little. When Samuel’s advice hits the mark, he becomes famous, and people flock to the town to hear about their future loves. But with all the fame comes some problems, and soon Samuel has more than just the lovelorn to deal with.

MY TWO CENTS: This was a great read with a little bit of everything—mystery, romance, long-lost relatives, miracles, good guys, and villains. Although it is a relatively short book, it packs a lot into the 179 pages. The village of Candeia has a presence that almost makes it another character, and certainly it goes through as many changes over the course of the story as anyone else. Readers will root for Samuel as he struggles first to simply survive, and then to understand and control his visions and power. With themes of faith, power, and destiny, this is a book to read, share and discuss for both teens and adults.

TEACHING TIPS: Acioli began this book as part of a workshop with the great South American writer Gabriel García Márquez, and it would be an interesting exercise for students to compare Candeia and its residents with other insular towns in Latin American fiction. The multiple points of view in the novel are a good discussion starter and give teachers the opportunity to have students write from the point of view of different characters. The development of Candeia and the fate of the statue are a good jumping off point for discussing the changing landscape of Brazil, especially as developers and the government pour money into high profile projects and events like the World Cup and the Olympics.

Socorro Acioli ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Socorro Acioli was born in Fortaleza, Ceará in 1975. She is a journalist, has a master’s degree in Brazilian literature and is currently studying for a PhD in Literary Studies at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. She started her writing career in 2001 and since then has published books of various genres, such as children’s short stories and YA novels. In 2006, she was selected to take part in a workshop called ‘How to tell a tale’, conducted by the Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel García Márquez at the San Antonio de Los Banõs International Film and Television School, Cuba. The author was selected by García Márquez himself based on the synopsis for The Head of the Saint. In 2007, she was a visiting researcher at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, and she has also lectured in several other countries such as Portugal, Bolivia and Cape Verde. Socorro is also a translator, essayist and literary theory teacher, and you can follow her at www.socorroacioli.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @AcioliSocorro

Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRNJAIYNbCc

http://artofsavingalife.com/artists/socorro-acioli/

FOR MORE INFORMATION about The Head of the Saint, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Guest Post: A Sock Thief in the Making

DON’T MISS THE BOOK GIVEAWAY! THE INFO IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

COVER

By Ana Crespo

Sometimes I wonder what the reaction of my younger self would be if I could tell her that, at almost 40, I am investing in a career as a children’s book writer… in English.

“Awesome!” my enthusiastic five-year-old self would probably scream. Pequena1

“But you don’t speak English,” the realistic 10-year-old me would point out.

“Ha! You don’t even like to read,” the sarcastic teenager would mention. (It’s true. I didn’t. Learn about how I became a reader here.)

“You’re studying to be a journalist. Your job is to expose the facts and allow your readers to form their own opinions, not to create stories,” the determined 20-year-old me would explain.

Certainly, I never thought I would one day publish any book, let alone a children’s book, in English. Yet THE SOCK THIEF has been in the making since I was that enthusiastic five-year old in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It started when my father tucked me into bed each night and shared stories of his childhood.

PapaiAlthough my paternal grandmother came from a wealthy family, my grandfather didn’t, and their five kids lived a frugal life. This included not owning a soccer ball, a very expensive item in the 1960s, in Rio. My father and his older brother had to be creative. They would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, take a pair of women’s hose, stuff it with newspaper, and make a soccer ball.

Don’t ask me why, but that story stuck in the back of that enthusiastic five-year old’s mind and resurfaced in the wanna-be children’s writer I eventually became. I had wanted to write a story with a Brazilian character since I started writing for kids in 2012. During a local SCBWI conference, a speaker mentioned something that brought back the long-forgotten memory. It wasn’t a story yet, just a memory with potential.

Then, I remembered something else from long ago. One day, watching a famous Brazilian TV show called Fantástico, I learned about a kid who had to walk a huge number of miles to reach school every day. I was a middle-class kid, riding on a comfortable school bus over paved roads, completely sheltered. That different reality, unthinkable to me up until then, left a strong impression. Maybe it sat in the back of my mind, by my father’s childhood story. Together, they started to form a plot.

Although I felt there was still something missing in the plot, I wrote THE SOCK THIEF (or MONDAY IS SOCK DAY, its first title) and submitted it to two different agents. And received two rejections. It wasn’t until I found that missing something that the manuscript received some attention.

One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to the United States was the way animal sounds are represented in written English. While in English a dog says “woof, woof,” in Portuguese, it says “au, au, au.” I imagined the difference would be a surprise to others as well, and decided to add it to THE SOCK THIEF. In my opinion, it gave the story a unique flavor.

A year after the idea first sprouted, I met my future editor at the same local SCBWI conference. I had paid for a manuscript critique, which included a 10-minute, face-to-face, in-depth analysis of THE SOCK THIEF. My editor thought the story was interesting. However, it was only after she learned that making soccer balls out of socks was a real practice in Brazil that her interest really sparked.

After the conference came the cutting, and cutting, and cutting of words. In the original text, I carefully described the process of making a soccer ball out of newspaper-stuffed socks. It was a tedious and confusing text, better shown through illustrations. I fixed some weird sentences. I added an author’s note. And I submitted my revised manuscript.

I crossed my fingers, lit some candles, held on to my figa, and tied some Nosso Senhor do Bonfim bracelets around my wrists. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. The point is that, although I really wanted a positive response, I had received so many rejections in the past, for this and other manuscripts, that I wasn’t keeping my hopes up too much.

In fact, I had set up a mental deadline. If I didn’t receive a positive reaction to my work, I was going to give up. The submission process is very stressful and the fact that it usually comes with rejections doesn’t really help. I never expected that the positive reaction I was hoping for would come in the form of a publishing offer, but it did.

From that point on, everything was new and exciting–the illustrator choice (Nana Gonzalez’s grandpa used to make soccer balls out of socks in Argentina!), the first drafts, the adjustments to the text, the illustrations in color, the adjustments to the text, the front cover reveal, the adjustments to the text, the first book review (a bit nerve-wrecking!), the scheduling of school visits, the book promotion… And, during it all, I sold four more books to Albert Whitman & Company–even more excitement.

While this journey would be exhilarating no matter what, to me it’s particularly rewarding because writing in English doesn’t come easily. No matter how long I’ve lived in the US, or how many college degrees I hold, or how much work experience I have, sometimes, I still sound foreign. I’m not talking (or writing, I should say) about my accent. It’s the word choices, the sentence structure, the weird use of prepositions. I’ve been through many funny and embarrassing moments thanks to the complexity of the English language…but that’s a whole different story.

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A BOOK GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the upcoming release of THE SOCK THIEF, we’re launching an amazing giveaway.  Sign up for a chance to win a copy of the book, plus a total of six copies to be donated to two elementary schools of your choice (three copies to each school). This giveaway was made possible thanks to a donation from Albert Whitman & Company.  To sign up for a chance to win and to check out the terms and conditions of the giveaway, visit the giveaway page on Ana Crespo’s website.

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AnaCrespo_PURPLEAna Crespo is the author of THE SOCK THIEF (Albert Whitmam & Company, March 2015), JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS and JP AND THE POLKA-DOTTED ALIENS (Albert Whitman and Company, September 2015). Before investing in a career as a writer, Ana worked as an academic advisor and a translator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master of Education in Career and Technology Education. To find out more about Ana, visit her website. You may also find her tweeting away at Twitter , or sharing news on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

By Eileen Fontenot

13453104DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, they will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel with leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

MY TWO CENTS: As readers, we experience the yearlong events of The Summer Prince through the eyes of the protagonist, June Costa, a waka (under 30) artist who is growing up in a lush oasis in a post-apocalyptic Brazil. She and her closest friend, Gil, become enamored with the new Summer King, Enki, who is from the verde, the poverty-stricken part of the city. What begins as a rebellious lark – being a grafiteiro, making public art in support of Enki (who is a figurehead for the Aunties who really run the city and is destined to give his life in choosing a new Queen) – leads to a game of higher stakes for June. She grapples with many adult issues – being in a love triangle, struggling with self identity and parents’ expectations, grappling with unjust grandes (the society’s elders) and their traditions, and ultimately being a force that will decide the direction Palmares Três will take in the future. Will the youth rise up and overthrow the corrupt elders and begin a new era that balances humanity with technology?

This is not a pat, easy coming-of-age novel. June is not altogether sympathetic, but most of her actions are understandable. She is portrayed, especially early on in the book, as a somewhat self-centered youth, bent on fame and the coveted Queen’s Award, which is awarded to the best young artist in the city. She must decide just what is she willing to sacrifice to become famous, to create, to win. As she gets involved deeper and deeper with Enki, she must choose to be cowed by the Aunties’ pressure to conform or to help facilitate real change within the city.

Although the book discusses the effects of extreme technology and bio-modifications on humans’ bodies, it does so in a somewhat oblique way. Johnson chooses to focus more on June’s personal struggle with her mother and step-mother and the death of her father, the sacrifices she makes for her art and the love she has for both Enki as a lover and Gil as a friend, while accepting that both Enki and Gil also love each other. June comes to realize that even though you may lose the ones you love the most, they can still be with you in spirit – through what they have left behind in your beloved city, with its music, knowledge and history.

We’d also like to note that while Johnson’s novel received lots of praise when it released in 2013, it was also criticized by some for its portrayal of Brazil and its culture. For that view, please see this post by Ana Grilo, a Brazilian living in the UK and half of The Book Smugglers team.

TEACHING TIPS: This book would be wonderful for an older teen book talk, especially for those who create art or are interested in it. (I suggest older teens because there are some sex scenes, and the book’s themes are for more mature minds.) Wakas of Palmares Três love body art, so talk leaders could pair the book discussion with a make your own temporary tattoo craft. A type of LED sign features very prominently in the climax, so if you’re feeling particularly adventurous or techy, have the teens collaborate on their own sign, which then could be hung in your teen space.

Facilitators could take a few other tacks with their talk, one of which would be discussing the types of love that can be experienced – platonic, familial, romantic, even the respect you come to have for a frenemy – who is embodied in Bebel, June’s talented rival for the Queen’s Award. Teens may want to share their thoughts on romance – the types of conflict they’ve experienced or what things they have done in pursuit of love. If the members of your group want to share mistakes they’ve made, that may help their peers understand they are not alone. Teens who have lost a parent may also benefit from joining in a book talk of The Summer Prince. June loses her beloved father before most of the events of the novel, and it is a recurring theme throughout the book – her difficult acceptance of his death and her mother’s resulting remarriage to an Auntie. Teens in “step” households can share their struggles and successes with living in blended families.

If these ideas don’t grab you, facilitators may choose to ask the teens to discuss their thoughts on the future of technology and how or if they would choose to strike a harmonious balance between the two. Who in the group identifies as more “techy” and who identifies as more of an “analog” type person? Where do they foresee technology going in the future, when they are adults? What sort of restraints should be put on tech, if any? What sort of bio-mods would they want implanted in their bodies? What would they want these mods to do? Communicate with computers directly without a visible interface? Change their appearance? Give them an unusually long life?

AUTHOR (from her website): Alaya (rhymes with “papaya”) lives, writes, cooks, and (perhaps most importantly) eats in Mexico City. Her literary loves are all forms of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional highbrow novel. She plays the guitar badly and eats very well, particularly during canning season. She has published five novels for adults and young adults, including The Summer Prince, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in 2013.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT The Summer Prince, visit your local library or bookstore. You can also check out goodreads.com, indiebound.com, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

 

fontenot headshotEileen Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.